Since social media is relatively new, the power it has to rocket people into stardom or cause them to fall from grace is just starting to be recognized. The ability for culture mixing and connection is truly unmatched by anything else we have in society. But this same ability to connect people has unintentionally created a flip side — an angry mob of people millions strong. Similar to the 17th Century Salem Witch Trials, a simple tweet, punch line in a comedy skit or comment on a Facebook post can go viral and get millions throwing Twitter torches, cyber-ly burning people at the stake. It's called cancel culture, and it needs to stop.
There are three main types of cancel culture: teens and young people losing future opportunities due to mistakes on the internet, regular civilians losing jobs over social media posts and celebrities being de-platformed over non-politically correct choices or actions.
Cancel culture becomes especially wrong when minors are involved. When the baby boomers were teens, they too said and did things that were wrong, immoral and stupid. They made mistakes just like young people today. However, the baby boomers didn’t have these mistakes broadcasted online, resulting in major life consequences. Young people these days could have their mistakes from childhood follow them years after the incident from a post can never truly be deleted. There are many examples of young people losing scholarships, internships or acceptances to college based on social media mistakes.
The frontal cortex of the brain controls decision making, and it isn't fully developed until a person reaches the age of 25. Those under 18 years old are treated differently than adults according to the law, and their criminal records are kept private. If the government views childhood mistakes this way, the public should too. Mistakes minors make on the internet shouldn’t affect future employment, scholarships, college acceptance or other future building opportunities. It’s not that these mistakes should go unpunished — there’s simply a line between punishment and social burial.
The second type of cancel culture isn’t as common, yet still drastic. This is when adults post something on the internet, and their livelihood suffers from it. Freedom of speech is a right that all Americans have in the U.S.; cancel culture is this freedom’s new opponent, and it’s fierce. Any post, comment, picture or tag can get someone fired, and it’s not OK. The defense for this tactic is that companies don’t want to associate themselves with a statement made by one of their employees on the grounds that it could offend consumers. While this could be true, a simple statement by the company stating an employee’s opinion is not their own would solve the issue. Asking the employee to take the post down is another way to calmly resolve the issue without causing unnecessary harm.
The third and most common example of cancel culture is when celebrities are de-platformed or face backlash from non-politically correct statements or actions. An example of this is Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi campaign ad where she’s shown in a crowd with protesters and police officers, and the two parties share a Pepsi. This was the soda company’s strive at creating unity in a time of social and racial turmoil. Some saw the ad as encouraging and hopeful that the two sides could come together. The other, more prevalent and socially powerful side, saw the ad as insensitive to the ongoing accusations of police brutality and racial injustice issues of the time. Kendall Jenner received a mass amount of hate comments and had “Twitter torches” thrown at her for being involved. She was forced to apologize and the ad was removed from circulation. A video clip that could have been viewed as a strive for positive change turned into people saying Kendall Jenner is insensitive to race relations in America. That sounds like a stretch and a witch hunt.
Kendall Jenner isn't the first celebrity to face this kind of backlash and certainly won't be the last. Comedians often face internet hate, a great example being Kevin Hart who had a skit many years ago as well as tweets in 2011 that involved aspects of homophobia. He had already apologized for this and explained how he had changed as a person, yet the angry witch hunt prevailed. It forced him to step down as the 2019 Oscars host, but he responded perfectly, “Guys, I’m almost 40 years old,” he said in a video. “If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you.” Hart explains this type of cancel culture and its flaws perfectly. People make mistakes, they grow, and it’s dehumanizing to force people to carry that cloud with them.
Cancel culture ruins lives. It can ruin the future for young people as they aren’t allowed to move past their mistakes, prevent free speech and inhibit diversity of thought and throw blame and repercussions on those that don’t deserve it. Offending someone isn't a crime, having an unpopular opinion isn’t a crime and making a mistake as a minor should stay within the realms of that minor. Cancel culture is a witch hunt, and just like in Salem, the actions of these “witches” were blown out of proportion and resulted in wrongful "deaths,” in his case it's a death of reputation.
Rebecca Cutsinger is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Rebecca at email@example.com.